Hooked on Heroin: The Good Samaritan Law
August 16, 2013 | Falmouth Enterprise
By Dr. Michael Bihari
This is the second in a series of articles about the resurgence of heroin use in Massachusetts and the impact it is having on our youth. A followup article will discuss the signs of an narcotic drug overdose and what do if a friend or family member has overdosed on heroin or a prescription painkiller.
On August 2, 2012 Governor Deval Patrick singed into law a revised Controlled Substances Act, which includes a new section that provides immunity from prosecution for persons seeking medical assistance for themselves or others who are experiencing a drug overdose.
Interestingly, in spite of the growing use of narcotic painkillers and heroin, and the significant increase in related overdoses and deaths, many people do not know about the immunity clause (referred to as the Good Samaritan Law) in the law. At a recent meeting I attended dealing with substance abuse issues, most people were not aware of the law, including two senior law enforcement officials.
The Law: Section 34A
(a) A person who, in good faith, seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug-related overdose shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance under sections 34 or 35 if the evidence for the charge of possession of a controlled substance was gained as a result of the seeking of medical assistance.
(b) A person who experiences a drug-related overdose and is in need of medical assistance and, in good faith, seeks such medical assistance, or is the subject of such a good faith request for medical assistance, shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance under said sections 34 or 35 if the evidence for the charge of possession of a controlled substance was gained as a result of the overdose and the need for medical assistance.
(c) The act of seeking medical assistance for someone who is experiencing a drug-related overdose may be used as a mitigating factor in a criminal prosecution under the Controlled Substance Act, 1970 P.L. 91-513, 21 U.S.C. section 801, et seq.
(d) Nothing contained in this section shall prevent anyone from being charged with trafficking, distribution or possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.
(e) A person acting in good faith may receive a naloxone prescription, possess naloxone and administer naloxone to an individual appearing to experience an opiate-related overdose.
You can read the entire Controlled Substances Act online.
Protecting Our Kids and Our Friends
Knowing that prescription medications are a gateway to heroin use and that the number of deaths from heroin overdose are increasing, it is important that everyone in our community be aware of the Good Samaritan Law. You can call for help without fear of arrest or punishment. If you are at a party or with a friend who you are concerned about do not hesitate; call 911. You can save a life!
Several weeks ago, I received an email from Susan Sheehan, a Falmouth resident who along with her husband Larry, worked with legislators, law enforcement officials, and others to help get the Good Samaritan Law passed. The following is an excerpt from the Sheehan’s note: “In 1999 my daughter, Alison, died of an opiate overdose. Simply put she could have been saved if the person she was with had called 911. My husband and I know the passage of this law will help those in need. Now the individual calling 911 can do so without fear of being prosecuted. Part of the education process surrounding drug and alcohol use needs to be responsibility we each take for each other. Last year’s passage of the Crime Bill Section 32 has already saved lives in the Commonwealth!”
“The goal is that there will be fewer overdoses and families like mine won’t be mourning the unnecessary death of a child and the loss forever of a precious life.”
MedlinePlus: Heroin is an excellent source of information about heroin use. The site provides access to information from reliable sources that are accurate and up-to-date.